When you have a train-obsessed toddler, the National Railway Museum in York is the only place for a birthday excursion. It’s also free to get in*, so that ticks a lot of Yorkshire family day out boxes already. So we set off early one Saturday morning, hitting the A59 in search of locomotive-flavoured third birthday joy.
Here’s what happened on our day at the National Railway Museum in York:
*Although it is free to get in, the National Railway Museum does rely on donations, food sales and gift shop purchases to keep going. If you can’t afford it, you get to enjoy it for free, which is a gigantic big tick in its favour.
What to See at the National Railway Museum
There’s a lot of stuff at the National Railway Museum in York. I don’t think they will borrow that sentence to use as their new marketing slogan, but it is accurate. The good thing is that Seth doesn’t discriminate between styles and eras of engine and carriage, so we could start anywhere in the museum and he’d be like a pig in dirt. In fact, ‘like a toddler in a train museum’ is a very good alternative for that simile.
The Great Hall
Anyway, we started in the Great Hall. It is the largest of the spaces at the National Railway Museum and is crammed full of locomotive goodies, from The Mallard to Eurostar, via wartime ambulance trains and a Japanese bullet train. I like the InterCity 125, both because of its late 70s/early 80s nostalgia hit and also because you only get to see the nose of the train, allowing me to make the gag about it having crashed through the wall.
The children did not find it funny. However, this was the fourth time they have heard that joke. Although, they didn’t laugh the first three times either.
Also in the Great Hall, you can walk underneath a train, which shows you how ludicrous those old films are that show people lying on the track as the train passes over them and surviving. There is a play area for kids, where Seth was able to move around toy trains on a track – something that he spends at least three hours a day doing at home.
There was also a mechanical Thomas the Tank Engine ride, which, as a special birthday treat, we actually fed money into. Neither kid realised until very recently that these mainstays of shopping centres and supermarkets came to life for the princely sum of a pound, as we’d always swerved that. I’m getting into this Yorkshire thing.
The North Shed
Just off the Great Hall is the North Shed at the National Railway Museum. This features the workshop, where you can watch staff fixing complicated looking train bits. Seth was intrigued, which bodes well. Hopefully he can learn some key engineering and mechanical skills in the future because I am flying useless at any of that stuff.
The boy also loves the viewing platform that points towards York railway station. However, at the beginning of March, it was a little chilly as we waited what seemed like an inordinately long time for “just one more Azuma train”.
The Station Hall
In the Station Hall, there is a chance to check out Queen Victoria’s carriage, a big clock that once stood at Euston station in London, and a Class 87 locomotive with a video playing on a screen embedded in a window. Dead fancy, like.
There are also more opportunities to jump onto the plates of a few engines and pretend that you are driving them. The kids, that is, not me. Honest. I should point out here that I am not a trainy person and the terminology in this National Railway Museum review is essentially my best guess. If you are knowledgeable about this stuff, I can only apologise for my vaguery.
Despite the chill in the air, the kids fancied spending time outside. There’s plenty to keep them entertained in the South Yard, including two of the paid activities you can take part in. We had already been on the miniature railway before, so we opted for the steam train ride this time.
The lovely man selling the tickets tipped us off that if we smiled sweetly and asked nicely, the guard might let Seth wave his green flag as a birthday treat. It worked. He did. And Seth was delighted. Not that you could tell, like.
I think he was showing off how seriously he took the job of starting the train.
Food and Drink at the National Railway Museum in York
If you’re having a thrifty day, you can bring your own sandwiches and nibble them amongst the locos. There are also a couple of really good outlets, serving hot and cold food and with a selections of coffees, teas and soft drinks to fuel the afternoon’s train-based adventures.
The kids can choose five items to pack into a lunch bag, including sandwiches, fruit, yogurt, chocolate and more. I opted for a gigantic sausage roll with a similarly gargantuan coffee to help restore the feeling in my fingers from being outside so much. Have I mentioned it was cold?
How to Get to the National Railway Museum in York
It’s simple to get to the National Railway Museum – especially if you are on the train. Get off the carriage and hop over the platform to join in the fun. If you are driving, it’s fairly central and there are brown signs to guide you there. The car park costs £10 per day, but that’s pretty reasonable for York.
If you are looking for more fun to be had with the kids in the city, check out the Bewildered Family Guide to York.